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Amazon Launches Drone Deliveries in California and Texas in Time for Christmas

After a decade of testing, stops and starts, they have FAA approval to forge ahead.

Amazon Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery service, has started making deliveries in Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas, reports Ars Technica. Amazon announced their plans to start drone deliveries in August after receiving approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Using MK27-2 drones, Amazon Prime Air can carry a maximum of five pounds per order, which fits about 85% of Amazon’s Prime Air shipments. Amazon was able to use the drone delivery service to deliver some packages before the holidays.

Residents of Lockeford and College Station can sign up for the service, and Amazon will confirm that they are able to deliver to those customer addresses. As with other Amazon orders, Amazon will confirm receipt of the order, provide an estimated delivery time, and share tracking information. Lockeford is about 50 miles from Sacramento, California, and College Station is the location of Texas A&M University.

“The promise of drone delivery has often felt like science fiction, and we’ve been working for almost a decade to make it a reality. We’ve built fully electric drones that can deliver packages under 5 pounds to customers in less than an hour, from click to delivery,” Amazon said in a November 10, 2022 blog post.

Source: Amazon

Amazon also addressed the issues of safety in their blog post.

“We know our customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if they know the system is safe and reliable. Our drones can encounter new, unexpected situations and still make safe decisions—autonomously and safely. We’ve created a sophisticated and industry-leading sense-and-avoid system that will allow our drones to operate at greater distances while safely and reliably avoiding other aircraft, people, pets, and obstacles,” wrote Amazon.

Though the company is starting with the MK27-2 in Lockeford and College Station, they are working on their next generation delivery drone, the MK30, which they are expecting to launch in 2024. The MK30 drone has “increased range, expanded temperature tolerance, safety-critical features,” and the ability to fly in light rain. While the MK27-2 drones are generally quiet, the MK30 will have custom propellers that reduce the drone’s “perceived noise” by about 25%.

Amazon shows how drone delivery will work.

FAA approval

The FAA approved Amazon’s use of done deliveries within these parameters:

College Station, Texas

“In this proposed action, Amazon Prime Air (Prime Air) will conduct drone package delivery operations from its Prime Air Drone Delivery Center (PADDC) in College Station, Texas, using its electric-powered drone that has an empty weight of 87 pounds and can carry packages weighing up to five pounds to eligible delivery locations within 3.73 miles. Operations from the College Station PADDC would occur during daylight hours up to five days per week. The operating area is divided into four sectors, with each sector having a maximum of approximately 50 delivery flights per operating day. Only one aircraft in each sector can be airborne at any time. The FAA signed a Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision for this action on December 9, 2022.” Read more.

Lockeford, California

“In this proposed action, Amazon Prime Air (Prime Air) will conduct drone package delivery operations from its Prime Air Drone Delivery Center (PADDC) in Lockeford, California, using its electric-powered drone that has an empty weight of 87 pounds and can carry packages weighing up to five pounds to eligible delivery locations within four miles. Operations from the Lockeford PADDC would occur during daylight hours up to five days per week. The operating area is divided into four sectors, with each sector having a maximum of approximately 50 delivery flights per operating day. Only one aircraft in each sector can be airborne at any time. The FAA signed a Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision for this action on November 10, 2022.” Read more.

In addition, the FAA approved drone package delivery testing in Pendleton, Oregon.

Other drone delivery competitors

Amazon is not the only company using drones for deliveries. Other notable companies include UPS Flight Forward, DHL Parcelcopter, FedEx, Boeing, Uber and Walmart.

In May 2022, Walmart announced they were expanding their DroneUp delivery network to 34 sites. By year end, the expected to reach markets in six states including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia. This expansion will allow Walmart to reach up to 4 million households and deliver more than 1 million packages via drone annually.

Insider Take

Amazon has been working on drones for about a decade, first developing and testing them, and then launching them in the U.K. in 2016. In recent years, however, they have moved workers to other projects, as of 2021. The company’s new focus appears to be the U.S. They are behind their competitors timewise, and have a lot of ground to make up (literally). Are drones the next big thing? Time will tell. They sound like a great idea in theory, but they are a huge investment to use on a large-scale basis.

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